Ann Nixon Cooper, the 107-year-old Atlanta woman whose name President Barack Obama invoked when he gave his historic election speech last year, died Monday afternoon around 3:30 p.m.
Then President-elect Obama called Cooper an example of “the heartbreak and the hope,” noting that she’d lived long enough to remember when African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote and that she finally was able to help elect the country’s first black president.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Joyce Bobo, Cooper’s only living child of four. “Sometimes you take your mother for granted because … that’s just Mama. But we’re very, very proud.”
Family and friends gathered Monday night at the Tudor home in Atlanta’s west side Hunter Hills subdivision to celebrate Cooper’s life, before the election and Obama’s words thrust her into the limelight.
“We miss her already,” said Kenneth Mannings, the oldest of Cooper’s 15 grandchildren.
Albert “A.B.” Cooper said his grandmother was the last surviving member of a generation of people who transcended the obstacles that an age of slavery had wrought — segregation and poverty — to become a class of black professionals.
“Granny represents, to me, the best of Atlanta and the best of black Atlanta,” A.B. Cooper said. “She represents a whole generation of people who hoped and strove and developed a legacy of good and decency. She set the tone for us.”
Weeks before the 2008 presidential election, Cooper went to the advance voting polls, and the media followed her. Obama called and left a message thanking her for her support, and eventually would tell the family he’d invoke her name in his acceptance speech.
Bobo, 84, recalled the night of Nov. 4, anxiously watching Obama speak after being told he “might mention” Cooper.
“When it seemed like he was coming to the end, he called her name,” Bobo said. “That was jarring.”
The president-elect went on to talk about Ann Nixon Cooper’s life before she came to vote for him.
“It was a very exciting time,” said Bobo of the year that followed.
Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young, whose district includes Cooper’s home, said he met her when running for office in 2001 and he found her stories about Atlanta history mesmerizing.
“I was at her house the entire afternoon,” Young said. “Her words if you spent any time with her could have a profound impact on you. She had you glued. She could really bring a story to life.”
Her stories are being chronicled in the autobiography “A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name,” due to be released days before what would have been her 108th birthday, on Jan. 9.
Ivory Young said that Cooper invited him in when he was campaigning during this past election, too. He said from the first time he met her, she made clear what she expected from her elected representatives and what she expected City Hall to do for Atlanta. “I really feel like I lost a friend,” he said.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young recounted Cooper’s legendary vibrancy, noting that she had taught senior citizens aerobics until she was 100. He told how he danced with her at her 104th birthday party, chuckling at the memory of how she outperformed him. “When I was tired, she stayed out on the floor and did the electric slide,” the former ambassador to the United Nations said. “I never saw her angry with anybody, and she lived a loving life.”
Several weeks ago, Bobo said her mother’s health began to fail. Cooper was hospitalized with circulatory trouble, Bobo said.
“They told us they had done all they could do,” she said.
Bobo left her home in Granada Hills, Calif., and came to Atlanta.
And Monday, Cooper died in the home she’d lived in since 1938.
Her legacy of dignity, class and decency will outlive her years, A.B. Cooper said.
“My grandmother did not grow up rich, but she was so decent and good it transferred to everything she did,” he said. “I hope her example of civic-mindedness in her centarian years will encourage younger generations.”
But Andrew Young said her memory will live on, as well.
“We won’t miss her because we’ll never forget her,” he said.